Building a User Oriented Automatically Generated Custom User Interface

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Building a User Oriented Automatically Generated

Custom User Interface

Elsebeth Kirring

The State and University Library, Denmark

Introducing myself

My name is Elsebeth Kirring. I am qualified as a librarian from the Royal School of Library and

Information Science in Copenhagen. I have been employed in several departments during the 40

years I have been working here at the State and University Library. I started in the Lending

Department, then I was some years in the Cataloguing Department. After that I worked with

Classification of books. In 1989 I became Head of the State Media Archive. And last month I got a

new challenge: I’m now Metadata Consultant in the Department of Digital Resources.
The background for the project

In 2003 The State and University Library got the assignment to build up a competence centre for

preserving and giving access to sound recordings. Nowadays the mantra for preservation of

audiovisual materials is: Go digital, but keep the analogue original! And that’s what we are doing.

We keep the analogue originals in a safe, climate controlled store down the basements. And, we are

digitizing as much as possible within the resources we have got.

Prior to the assignment to build up a competence centre, we had digitized some minor collections,

but only in order to give access via the internet, not in order to preserve for posterity. Therefore we

did not know much about bit compression, sampling rates, etc. So we started researching and we

learned a lot about strategies for long-time preservation – what to do and why.

We sought advice and guidance from experts, and then we started digitizing from the

many collections we have in the basements. The first project was a collection of approximately

1300 old phonograph cylinders which had been published in the years 1900 to 1930. During the

Planning process we found out that we needed

  • an audio expert to help us get started

  • a recorder that could play the old cylinders

  • a professional digitization equipment

  • a database for the metadata

We knew the Danish audio expert, George Brock-Nannestad, who is internationally recognized as an expert in his field, and he agreed to help us. Regarding the playback equipment we bought an ’Archeophone’, invented and constructed by the Swiss Henri Chamoux. The digitization equipment was Quadrica from the company CubeTec. We had already bought that for ripping cd’s, so we upgraded the system with extra hard- and software for our new purpose.

Then there was the database to hold all the needed metadata plus to connect the metadata to the matching audio files. This database was developed by our IT-developer Bjarne in cooperation with the staff who was going to use it. The database, called DigiLyd functioned well and we managed to digitize the 1300 cylinders. The metadata format was a mix between Dublin Core and some homemade fields. Anyway, we got a lot of know-how and competence. So far so good.
The next collection we were going to digitize consisted of analogue reel-to-reel tape. But as the database was developed especially for our cylinder project, we needed other fields to describe the physical characteristics of the tape. Instead of e.g. the needle pressure and the percentage of mould on the cylinder, we needed to describe how the tapes were winded, the size of the reel, etc. That meant that Bjarne was going to develop a new version of his database.
Knowing how many different media types we already had and realizing that for each new type we had to use expensive resources to develop new database versions, we now understood that we had to change strategy. We ought to aim at a totally new system which would be able to encompass all our present media types plus others that might come in the future; and that system should also be able to generate a User Oriented Custom Interface.

Changing strategy

We did not ourselves have the resources to develop such a user interface. We had to find a company to do it for us. We looked around, got in contact with colleagues around the world, for instance among our network IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives) in order to learn how others had solved that problem. We got many different suggestions. Some institutions had developed their own system, some had bought off-the-shelf items. One specific off-the-shelf system, which we already knew about, was mentioned several times. So we contacted the company and had an online demonstration. It seemed promising, but before going into negotiations, we met with our IT-developers to ask if this system could function with the Digital Object Management System, called DOMS, they were developing. It turned up that on the whole, the DOMS itself would be able to comply with almost all the functional requirements we had. Apart from one very important feature: There were no plans or resources to develop a graphic user interface, since DOMS was intended to be used only by the IT staff.


The obvious thing to do was instead of buying a system that would overlap the functions of DOMS, instead to use the money to get a custom-made user oriented automatically generated Graphic User Interface, called GUI for the DOMS. We searched the market and decided for the company Mjølner Informatics which we rated to be the best for the job. In addition to their professional competence they reside here in Århus, a few hundred meters away, so we would be able to hold a quick and close contact.


The first requirement to the GUI was that it should be developed, designed and implemented for handling metadata for digital objects. It should be a working tool for the staff who digitize and catalogue the audiovisual cultural heritage and it should support the workflow. It should be so flexible that it could handle individual requirements based on the individual media types. It should be automatically generated from the description of the individual data model and thereby give access to the metadata elements and the functional buttons relevant for the individual media type.

Project GUI to DOMS started on May the 23rd where we had the upstart meeting. The result of this meeting was a plan for the work of the functional requirements. One of the elements of the plan was a whole day of fieldwork where Mjølner would observe the different workflows connected to the digitization of the analogue media types and go into details with the staff who are going to be the users of the GUI, i.e. the technicians and the librarians. Subsequent to the fieldwork there was a whole day workshop where we among other things discussed user scenarios and gave input to the graphic look of the interface. In the light of these meetings, Mjølner worked out a specification requirement and a provisional plan for the further sequence. Each meeting and each report have currently been discussed, partly on in-house meetings, partly on meetings with Mjølner. The advantage of this close progress is that misunderstandings would not grow and ideas arising could quickly be discussed in the right forum.


Another requirement to the GUI was that it should be a central component for the connection between the software we use in connection with different digitization systems and the system we are developing for handling the digital objects, i.e. the DOMS, based on Fedora Commons. In consequence of that, special meetings between the IT-developers were – and are still - necessary.


One of the big issues was to decide for metadata standards. It was out of discussion that it should be standards, the questions was which ones.

But what is metadata? Metadata is often defined as ‘data about data’. But Priscilla Caplan has a more useful definition in her book “Metadata Fundamentals for All Librarians”: she says, “Metadata is here used to mean structured information about an information resource of any media type or format”.

Others, such as Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President and Chief Strategist of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), focus instead on what metadata can do: “I like to think of metadata as data which removes from a user (human or machine) the need to have full advance knowledge of the existence or characteristics of things of potential interest in the environment.

Lorcan Dempsey also describes metadata as ”schematized statements about resources: schematized because machine readable; statements because they involve a claim about the resource by a particular agent; resource because any identifiable object may have metadata associated with it”

And the last quote is from the French Yolaine Bourda who has aptly compared metadata with labels on cans in the supermarket. “Without labels, we would have to open all the cans to see what is in them, we would have to analyse their contents to know whether the substance is edible or not, and so on. Thanks to the labels, we know what the food is, what it is made of, where it comes from, how much it costs, up to what date we can safely eat it, possibly how we can prepare it and how to preserve it. In the cultural heritage sector, metadata can include the title of a journal article, the date it was written or published, the character encoding used in a particular version on the Web, the name of the right-holders, and the like”.

So now we know what metadata are and what they can do, but the next question is which of the existing standards might be suitable to us and our requirements?
How do others find out what kind of metadata they need? UKOLN (Formerly known as The United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking) has a list of factors to consider when choosing a metadata standard:

  • Purpose of metadata

  • Attributes of resource

  • Design of standard

  • Granularity

  • Interoperability

  • Support

  • Growth

  • Extensibility

  • Reputation

  • Ease of use

  • Existing expertise

We went through the list and decided that our need for metadata is basicly

  • Descriptive metadata structure standard to describe the physical characteristics and the intellectual content of an item

  • Administrative metadata to describe the process connected to the digitization and the digital file itself

The metadata standards we have chosen so far are:

  • Qualified Dublin Core and PB Core as descriptive metadata. Because the alternatives are either too specialized, like VRA for visual resources, GEM for learning objects, CDWA for art and architecture, or the granularity is too comprehensive for our purpose like MARC and RDA

  • PREMIS as preservation metadata.

And XML as mark-up language/encoding format
Besides, we intent to use DCMI Type Vocabulary and other standard schemes as content standard, because metadata schemes without content rules are not very usable. I mean, any librarian would know that cataloguing according to MARC without using AACR2 as content standard would be chaotic, useless and unexchangeable.
One of the many advantages of using standards is that if you for some reason want to change to another standard, it is very easy to map between standards.


It could seem to be a nice and easy job to outsource the task of developing a Graphic User Interface; to be able to lean back and state the clear and exact demands for what we need and what we want. But this was not case here. We are currently working in competition with deadlines because we have not yet finished the developing of the DOMS and we are still discussing part of the metadata standards and the data models. We had been better off if we had waited e.g. half a year before engaging Mjølner, but that was not possible due to financial affairs. The advantage, on the other hand, is that as soon the system are implemented, we will be able to give a better service to our customers, and that is what we are here for – isn’t it?

I will point out that we have and has had a very good cooperation with Mjølner Informatics. They are always ready to meet our wishes and they have been very good to understand our workflows and adjust their design according to that. The further project plan holds 4 iterations and each iteration is concluded by a presentation of the current version of the DOMS-GUI and the users-to-be are invited to comment on it and thereby influence the content of the next iteration. The last iteration is going to be concluded at December the 15th and at this date the final delivery will take place.
We cross our fingers that this delivery will be the Christmas present that complies with all our wishes!
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